In Conversation With Ross McNae, Twin Atlantic

Paige Clayton took the opportunity to chat with Ross McNae about Twin Atlantic’s new album ‘Power’, and the band’s upcoming tour.

Twin Atlantic is in Leeds at The Wardrobe on 28 January.

“It feels like something I’ve experienced a hundred times before; It feels like a high of every party that you’ve already been to. It feels like being thousands of miles away from home and missing the people there, it feels like being with them at a special occasion. It just has a feeling about it, that I can’t quite place.”

In preparation for Twin Atlantic’s new album, Power, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Ross McNae, bass / keyboard player and backing vocalist.  Ross impressed me with the rawness and sincerity of his answers. To dilute them in any way would deny his strength of character.  

This is all a little surreal for me. As a die-hard Twin Atlantic fan from the age of 12, I’m finding it difficult to comprehend that I just had a phone conversation with ROSS MCNAE. But here we are. I have such a strong sense of nostalgia from their earlier music, especially Brothers & Sisters from the album Great Divide (2015). When I listened to their new single, Barcelona, there’s definitely a new, more pop-like sound. Yet, there’s still the unmistakable presence of Twin Atlantic. From the lyrics to the bridge building up to the catchy chorus – it’s a classic Twin Atlantic combination.

Enough from me.  Let’s get onto the good stuff…

So you’re playing in Leeds at The Wardrobe on 28th January. When was the last time you played in Leeds?

The last time Twin Atlantic played in Leeds, now I can’t remember off the top of my head, but I know it’s somewhere that we’ve been quite a lot. I’m not sure if the last time we played was our own gig or if it was at Slamdunk Festival. We’ve definitely played in the City Centre, in a big square where there’s this massive golden eagle (after some Googling- I’m pretty sure he means the golden owl in Millenium square) and it was so cool to be able to see the City Centre by playing outside and get the vibe of the City.  Usually you’re tucked away in some dark room. But to be able to see it while you’re playing, being honest it’s quite distracting, but it’s great.

More about the actual band. How did you guys meet? When did you meet and who knew each other first?

Myself and Sam, the two of us, we started the band together, just after we left school.  We were in different bands while we were at school, but we’ve been best friends since we were around 10 years old. I’m not quite sure why we didn’t originally just do a band together – I think we both had different ideas of how we wanted it to pan out.  

We’ve actually managed to navigate being great friends and working together in this industry throughout all these years. So I’m not sure how we’ve done it. It was quite natural. Then we met the other guys from playing in the city, and we realised they wanted to do the same thing as us and we just got together. It’s a strange thing, because being with a group of people – it’s more than just the right thing happening at the right time. More important than anything else is that, do you all get along with each other? Because if you can’t get on, it matters. So we are pretty lucky that we all remain such best friends throughout the years, you know.

How did you decide the name Twin Atlantic? Has it always been Twin Atlantic or has there been some variation of that on the way?

Sam and I had a band to begin with, that wasn’t really a band but we pretended that it was when were at school. I don’t think we ever had a practice and we never had any songs. It was when we were just discovering music. I think it was called The Barracuda Newsletter. There you go. I’ve never told anyone that before (all the die-hard Twin Atlantic fans -including myself- will be happy to know that exclusive). The name Twin Atlantic came from us not wanting to sound like any other band. You know how a lot of bands have ‘The -’ at the beginning of their name? We didn’t want that; we didn’t want to sound like certain things; we were trying to find a name that didn’t really sound like anything. There’s a song we heard that had the word ‘Atlanticism’ and we loved the idea of that word, which lead us to Atlantic. We then just thought about what would sit nicely with that word. There’s not a great story behind it; we honestly just drove around, for what felt like weeks, randomly looking at things out of the window, pairing words with Atlantic and seeing which sounded the best. Then we eventually landed on Twin. I wish there was a real reason.

What’s your best memory whilst being on tour?

Best memory. So, we’ve got so many joint memories that are for the four of us. Doing this amazing thing together, getting to go somewhere for the first time or all those kind of things. But for me, personally, I can remember this one thing. I can remember being on one of our first tours in America and we were in Colorado, I think – definitely that neck of the woods. It was winter time and there was snow everywhere. I was the only one in the van that was up, just drinking a coffee, just looking out of the window, driving into the city (sounds like something from a film, right? Queue Ross’ montage of his tour playing over the top of their hit single whilst looking out of a frosted window). You know, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it right now. But I just remember thinking we are so lucky that we get to see all these amazing places. It was a sweeping feeling all over my body.

I’m just going to go on to your past now – because this album is the first you’ve released since 2016. So it’s almost like your comeback. How have the singles, album and tour been received so far?

It’s been received really well. To us, we’ve completely reinvented the wheel in a sense, but actually, musically – all the sounds and structures are all very familiar still. So it’s not like some brand new Avant-Garde music that we’re trying to play; it’s just pop music essentially. But for us, it feels like this massive door that’s been opened. We’ve never allowed ourselves to be particularly experimental. We’ve always stuck quite close to the formula of what we felt like the band could be. We’ve been in the band for a long time and all of our ‘musical loves’ have changed over that time, but there’s always still a common thread that ties us loosely all together. I do feel like the structure and the energy of the songs are all still the same; it’s just maybe the instrumentation is slightly different. We do still have that thread that makes the band what it is, just in a slightly different way. But ultimately, and I do really mean this, I want people to enjoy our music and that’s the purpose of a band – to allow people to have that outlet to escape and enjoy themselves – but ultimately, we’ve got so much out of this. We had so much freedom and it’s given us so much, musically, that we have something in us, a desire to make something again. From there, whatever happens and however people receive it, I think it’s ok, you know. It’s ok if people don’t love it, because we do.

I’m really interested to know about the process you use when you’re writing a song. Will you talk me through that? Is it the music or the lyrics first?

So what we’ve done in previous albums is, our singer Sam would basically come up with an idea on acoustic guitar. Usually late at night on the tour bus or in the flat and then he would bring it to us and we would translate it into a song. So he would have a finished song there and we would translate it as a band. Then over the years, that process has just slightly evolved to the point where, on our last album we were writing songs separately, then working on each other’s ideas together. But with this album what we decided to do was we would walk into the studio in a morning and that would be where the ideas came. So we decided that we wouldn’t have a single idea outside of the studio for this album. So everything you hear musically and lyrically is a reaction to what we’re hearing, rather than sitting with a guitar and sitting back over the day and processing your feelings. There’s so many ways you can write a song, but we needed to give ourselves a new challenge. Otherwise, why just do the same thing over again?

I get such nostalgia from Twin Atlantic as I’ve been listening to your music for years. Is there any one of your songs that really take you back to the beginning and give you that nostalgic feeling?

There’s a song that we play called Yes I Was Drunk. That is a song that we played that’s quite old. We’ve played it all over the world. So there’s so many different emotions and feelings attached to that song. It’s a song that’s been around for a long time that we all worked on together, so it harks back to the days when we were youthful.

What are your influences behind the album ‘Power’? Not so much in the sense of other artists. More so the concepts behind the writing of the album.

Everything in the world is loosely based around power and the power struggle. More and more each day. Obviously, being from Scotland we just had the independence referendum, and the idea of a second independence referendum on the horizon. We’ve got a Tory government who don’t stand for anything that anybody in Scotland stands for.  We’ve got someone in power in America that the vast majority of the world can’t understand. Europe is moving towards the right. It’s a scary time.

So it’s quite politically lead then?

It’s not politically lead, necessarily lyrically. But I guess those are the things that you feel the whole time, just living day-to-day right now. (I feel ya). The juxtaposition is, we are all so comfortable right now, even, I understand there are people who aren’t in a good position. But the majority of people, even if they aren’t that well off, your life is pretty good. So it’s easier for you to just switch off to these things. Which is what we are guilty of. Everyone is guilty of. Even though the world that we live in does seem like it’s quite crazy, our experience of living in it – obviously by design, I’m sure – is very comfortable. Because as long as you’re comfortable, why would you complain? So it’s a strange time that we live in.

Now my next question is very cliche, I’m sorry. But there’s reasons for them. How would you describe the album in three words?

I am the worst at these questions. Somebody asked me the other day. Ok, so I’m going to say, it’s so rubbish but I’ll go for – Powerful, Sense, Rock. It’s so bad.

What’s each of your favourite tracks on the new album?

There’s something about all of the songs that is so exciting, because they’re all so new. But there’s a song called Ultraviolet. You know you were talking about nostalgia earlier on for you? Well, there’s a certain song of ours. That’s probably a song that, I can’t put my finger on this feeling. It’s not nostalgia because there’s nothing to be nostalgic about. It hasn’t even been listened to yet. But there is a nostalgia wrapped up in the sound of it. But, again, it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before and I know I’m not making much sense here but there’s something about it. It feels…  it’s just a feeling. It feels like something I’ve experienced a hundred times before. It feels like a high of every party that you’ve already been to. It feels like being thousands of miles away from home and missing people. It feels like being with them at a special occasion. It just has a feeling about it that I can’t quite place.

I could have spoken to Ross for much longer about the album, the tour and the future of Twin Atlantic. But given their tight schedule and rehearsals, we had to cut it short after straying over our allotted time for the interview. (Sorry again, Wayne the manager!)

After speaking with 0.33 of Twin Atlantic, I could not be more excited to be there at The Wardrobe Leeds on 28th January. I don’t know about you, but I’ll definitely be listening out for the homely and nostalgic feeling of Ultraviolet whilst I’m there.

Buy your tickets here.

Feature photograph by Katy Cummings.

Paige Clayton

Paige is an MA graduate working in hospitality marketing.  She's a coffee enthusiast, avid foodie and theatre-goer, with a recent interest in ballet. You'll probably find her on Instagram @_PaigeEliza

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